Name: Ray "The Crippler" Stevens
Year Inducted: 2006
Induction Category: Modern Era & Tag Team

Ray "The Crippler" Stevens

There are few names in the wrestling industry that are looked upon as fondly as Ray "The Crippler" Stevens. Fans loved him - when he wasn't making them hate him - and his fellow wrestlers thought he was just about the closest thing to the perfect wrestler that ever existed.

"You see, anyone who ever saw Ray Stevens in his prime became a slobbering mark for him. I should know because I was the biggest mark of all," wrote Superstar Billy Graham in his autobiography. "I'd been a fan since the first day I peeked through the slit in the curtain and beheld a master craftsman performing his art. Stevens was so fluid, his timing was unassailable. Nothing was ever rushed or delayed. He took big bumps on a hard ring, and watching him sell made a believer out of me."

Carl Raymond Stevens, of West Virginia, used to hang around the Toe Hold Club in Columbus, Ohio when he was just a teen, and started wrestling for Al Haft when he turned 15 in 1950. Big and chunky, he would grow into a 5'7", 237-pound man.

A huge fan of Buddy Rogers (hence the dyed blond hair), Stevens spent most of his early years as a tag team competitor, teaming with and learning from Don Fargo and Roy Shire. When Shire took over the San Francisco promoter, he wanted his old partner on top.

It was a masterstroke that made him a legend, whether it was teaming with fellow Blond Bomber Pat Patterson, or feuding with Pepper Gomez. The Cow Palace became a second home, one where 17,000 fans would jam the place to see a master in action, usually delivering his devastating Bombs Away knee drop from the top rope.

In 1971, he headed to the AWA, where he gained "The Crippler" nickname, was managed by Bobby Heenan and teamed with Nick Bockwinkel for three tag title runs. "Ray was the consummate worker, the consummate professional," said Bockwinkel. "Whether he went it alone, or he went in with somebody, six man, four man, he just, when I saw he was a consummate professional, and he was able to blend with anybody."

His last major runs came in the WWWF and Mid-Atlantic, where he helped shape future stars like Jimmy Snuka and Ric Flair. Stevens retired for good in 1992.

Married for a time to woman wrestler Theresa Thies, he always enjoyed life away from the ring too. "Ray was like a kid, he liked to play, whether that meant wrestling, racing cars, rodeo or whatever," said Joe Pottgieser, who ran a Stevens Fan Club in California.

In 1995, the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland jointly proclaimed April 5 "Ray Stevens Day", and he was honored as a true local legend. He suffered a heart attack in late 1994 in Minnesota, and died in his sleep from heart illness at the age of sixty on May 3, 1996 in Fremont, California. His funeral was a packed affair, with old wrestlers, bikers, rodeo friends mixing and telling stories about Ray.

- Chris Sokol and Greg Oliver

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